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Chapter 3:

Measuring human welfare

                       

 

MAIN ISSUE:

Lomborg gives a correct description of the growth in the global human population. The crucial dynamics that have been termed "the demographic transition" are referred to. Unfortunately, the text reveals that although he has given a proper description of this transition, he has not himself understood what it is about. He rightfully states that the number of people is not the problem, but he fails to understand that the rate of change in the number of people is "the problem". He is not aware of the risk that if this rate is too high in a certain country, then the population of this country will not be able to pass from stage 2 to stage 3 in the transition. It will be "trapped" in a situation where population size and poverty both increase unlimited until some sort of disaster "solves" the problem. This means that he fails to understand the dynamics that connects population growth with poverty, which influences much of his book.

A broader description of population growth and the demographic transition may be found in

K. Fog (2002): population, growth and poverty. Pp. 83-108 in "Sceptical questions and sustainable answers", to be downloaded here.

 

P. 48 right: FLAW

"Such images are real enough but are actually the result of poverty rather than population density." Flaw: As Boongarts states in Scientific American: "Lomborg correctly notes that poverty is the main cause of hunger and malnutrition, but he neglects the contribution of population growth to poverty." The point is that the higher the number of children, the less is available for investment in improved living conditions. When in the demographic transition we are close to the pasage from step 2 to step 3, the number of surviving children is maximal, and population growth in percent per year (a) is maximal. If the rate of economic growth in percent per year is (b), then (b - a) has to be positive for the transition to pass on into step 3, where a beneficial circle starts. However, if (b - a) is zero or negative, this will never occur. Wealth per capita will not increase. In that situation, birth rates will remain high, and hence, (b - a) will never become positive. The population will be "trapped" in step 2. This is probably the situation for many countries in Africa, e.g. Ethiopia and Somalia. Here, a decline in birth rates is a condition without which poverty will continue for ever. So, high rates of population growth may be a cause of poverty. And low rates of population growth may be a cause of economic growth, as in China. (Of course, this is not meant to belittle those causes that act on the other term, on the b in the above expressions). - Lomborg´s sentence: "Today, Ehrlich and others also agree on this" is superfluous and more or less wrong. By this sentence Lomborg, who does not fully understand the subject, tries to picture Ehrlich as less shrewd than himself.

P. 49 right: ERROR

". . the fact is that even shanty-town dwellers live better lives than they would in rural areas." Error: This is exactly opposite what is stated by Wright (1997), one of Lomborg´s references. Elsewhere (note 157) Lomborg refers to p. 3 in Wright´s paper. So he must have read what is written there: "Death rates in urban slums are substantially higher than in wealthier city suburbs or even among the rural poor. Wherever they have been measured separately, health indicators such as infant mortality and the incidence of diarrhea have been shown to be much worse in crowded tenements and squatter settelments tahn in other urban areas. For example, statistics from Bangladesh suggest twice as many infant deaths per 1,000 live births in urban slums than in urban areas as a whole." It may be that Lomborg has found a single case where the trend is opposite, but when he has read the above text, he cannot allow himself to state without any reservation: " . . the fact is that . . ". So this seems to be a case of deliberate bias.

P. 49 right: ERROR

"In more densely populated areas, the most serious infectious diseases . . become less of a problem the closer the buildings are together." Error: This is completely contrary to Wright (1997), which Lomborg has read, in which it is stated that: " . . the urban poor are especially vulnerable to epidemics of water-related and vector-borne diseases." Thus, Lomborg makes a statement to which he has no reference, and at the same time he omits a reference, which he has read, to the opposite statement. This is a case of either gross negligence or deliberate misleading.

P. 49 bottom right: FLAW

" . . rural regions by far dominate the problem of global poverty. Towns and cities, on the other hand, are power centers which provide greater economic growth." Flaw: This is at variance with what is written in Wright (1997). Here we read (on page 3, which Lomborg has read): "Pollution of the urban environment is now seen as one of the major obstacles to sustained economic growth . . . polluted wastewater can render rivers unusable once they have passed through the first city." Although Lomborg´s point of view may be partially right, this does certainly not justify that he stresses his point with the words "by far".